“Back in 2011, people may have thought that we had dealt a decisive blow to jihadism with the death of Bin Laden. But today, the picture suddenly looks complex,” says a senior western counter-terrorism official. “Some theatres of activity are getting squeezed, others are growing. The threat now seems more divergent.”
Some leaders view all these self-described allies of al-Qaeda in sweeping terms. After the dramatic hostage crisis in Algeria last month, which left at least 37 foreign workers dead, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of an “existential” and “global” threat that will take “decades, rather than months” to overcome.
Others, however, argue that such rhetoric is overdone. They suggest that the links between different franchises are often tenuous, if they exist at all, and many of the groups have emerged from principally regional struggles, sharing a similar extremist ideology and using the al-Qaeda label to galvanise their message.
Officials are comforted by the fact that over the past year a series of big events – such as the London Olympics – have taken place in western capitals without incident. But they still fear the potential and growth of al-Qaeda franchises, and their ability to contain them